George VanArsdale
15th New York Cavalry
Late September, 1863
Fort Tompkins
Staten Island, New York

The 15th New York had moved on from Syracuse. Several companies went directly to Washington, while George's cohort went to New York; the city. Well, specifically, Staten Island. Fort Tompkins. George and the others had been issued uniforms and equipment. Drill had followed drill, which had followed drill. As we rejoin George, he is entering the next phase of his cavalry training.

* * *

The quartermaster handed George a saber in its scabbard. "Next." George's curiosity couldn't wait; like the other fellows, he immediately unsheathed the saber to have a look at it, to feel its heft. Hez was holding his own saber, carefully not pointing it at anyone, just pointing it up to the sky, turning it this way, then that way. He sighted along the business edge. George noticed the same thing Hez had. "It's not sharp."

Sergeant Lane came through the area. "It's as sharp as it needs to be. Don't let me catch you fellows sharpenin'em, hear? Not unless you're ordered to. All right, you men. Put'em back in the scabbards, now. You're makin' me nervous. Fall in on the drill field, and I'll show you how to wear'em and we'll start drillin'. Move it!"

The men were standing fully nine feet apart, so as to have enough room to swing a saber without hitting anyone. Sergeant Lane called, "Draw..." George, in unison with the other troopers of Company G, turned his head slightly to the left, unhooked the saber with his left hand, grasped the hilt of his saber with his right, pressed the scabbard top against his thigh with his left, and pulled the saber from the scabbard a length of just six inches. "... saber!" The men all drew the full length of the saber quickly, paused a beat, then brought the hand back to the hip, the back of the saber resting in the hollow of the right shoulder.

"Present... saber!" The men all brought their right hands up to chest high, the saber edge towards the left.

"Guard!" The men all moved the right foot, which had been squarely with the left, towards the right a distance of two feet. At the same time, both hands came up a few inches from the midriff, with the saber held on an up and left angle.

"Right... moulinet!" The men all extended the right arm, the hand as high as the eyes, pointing the saber forward, but some held the hand in tierce (thumb down, knuckles up) instead of in quarte (thumb up, knuckles down). Sergeant Lane was upset. "No, no, no! In quarte, in quarte!"

The finish to the moulinet was to swing the saber down and back in a circle from the initial grip position, then return to guard position, but since the sergeant was shouting, not all the boys completed the maneuver. Some veterans lounging nearby started laughing.

"Again! Right..." Sergeant Lane went from man to man in the front rank, smacking a man's hand guard with the flat of his own saber if the man held his hand in the wrong position. "In quarte! In quarte!"

George looked at the hand positions of the neighbors on either side; one held the hand one way, the other the other way. He turned his wrist, unsure which way was right. Sergeant Lane rapped George's guard. "You had it right before you changed it." He rapped the next fellow's guard as well.

"... moulinet!" The swinging and the return to guard was decidedly non-unison. The watching veterans laughed anew. "Here, you fellows," Sergeant Lane said, "Come here and show them how it's done."

The veterans looked at one another, shrugged, and approached. Sergeant Lane told fellows in the front rank, "Give them your sabers." George handed his saber, grip first, to one grinning fellow. The veterans lined up facing the company. Sergeant Lane ordered, "Guard."

The veterans snapped to guard position.

"Right... moulinet." The veterans executed a very smooth right moulinet.

"Left... moulinet." The veterans executed an equally smooth left moulinet.

"Left and right, moulinet. Right and left, moulinet. Rear, moulinet. Present, saber." Sergeant Lane nodded and turned to the company. "That is how it's done. Thank you, men."

George got his saber back from the fellow, whose grin was becoming decidedly annoying.

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© 2019 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.